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The Federalist Papers: No. 4

On this day in 1787, Federalist Paper No. 4 was published. It was another in the series of essays defending the Constitution to the American people, who were then considering whether to adopt it.

The first 14 Federalist Papers can sound VERY pro-national government—perhaps surprisingly so! The Founders were supposed to be in favor of a restrained national government, so what, exactly, is the deal with these papers?

It is important to remember the overall layout of the Federalist Papers. At the beginning of the project, Publius was attempting to do one specific thing: He wanted to convince Americans to become a Union. They should no longer be only a loose coalition of states, as they were under the Articles of Confederation. Nor should they adopt a third alternative: They should not break up into 2 or 3 different confederacies, each with a few states in it. He wanted them to be unified. In unity, he believed, America would find strength.

So, yes, Publius’s initial Federalist Papers may sound unusually strong as they argue for a national government. But we have to remember that Publius was arguing against a status quo of NO true national government.

Importantly, some Americans at the time were so afraid of a strong national government that they were ready to oppose the Constitution altogether.

Later, after these introductory essays, Publius turns to another, equally important discussion: What checks and balances are in place to keep that national government from escaping its bounds and becoming tyrannical? These later discussions help put the initial essays into context.

In this paper, Publius continued to discuss the reasons that a single national government could handle wars against foreign nations better than a disunited America could. Federalist No. 3 had discussed “just” wars. Federalist No. 4 continued with a discussion into the area of unjust or “pretended” wars.

This paper was written by John Jay! He would write one more before taking a long break from the project.